Copenhagen is famous for its biking culture. There are over 390 kilometers of bike trails within the city limits. Last year, it was voted the ‘Best city for cyclists’. Today 37% of Copenhagen residents bike to work – their target is 50% by 2015. Compare that to Maine where only .5% of people bike to work.
I was excited to go to Denmark and experience the biking culture first hand. I jumped in and rented a bike the first day. It was awesome! The city is designed with bikers in mind. I LOVED biking in Copenhagen and yet I wondered if I would LOVE it if I had to do it every day.
As I biked around the city I had to get honest with myself about how I would feel using my bike as my main source of transportation at home. It’s one thing to be on vacation and explore on a bike, it’s something else to use it for transportation. In Denmark I saw men heading to work in suits, women biking in high heels, parents bringing their kids to daycare and people bringing home groceries – all on their bikes. In addition, they take their bikes up and down the stairs, on and off the metro and into their apartments or workplaces. I began to think about how I would do all those things on my bike in Maine and it did not sound like fun.
First of all Copenhagen is set up to accommodate bikers. They have bike lanes throughout the city, bike racks outside every major building and space for bikes on the metro. Everywhere you go there are bikes and accommodations for bikers. The Danes give biker priority over the cars.
In Maine that is not the case. We have many barriers that would prevent us from adopting a biking culture. We have a limited amount of bike lanes, bike racks are not common anywhere and the Maine culture gives priority to cars.
Maine would need develop more bike lanes, install hundreds of bike racks and encourage a mindset change in order to become a biking culture. We are not currently set up to do what the Danes do. The Bicycle Coalition of Maine has been working hard to make Maine a more bike friendly state and while bike usage in Maine is gowning – they still have a long way to go.
The Bicycle Coalition of Maine has been working since 1992 to make Maine a better place to bicycle. Their current leadership and membership is not large enough to make a major shift towards Maine becoming a biking state. They would need stronger leadership, more funding and a more engaged membership. As of today it is doubtful that they would have the resources or the numbers to make a large impact.
Mainer’s like to bike. In fact Maine was ranked the 2nd most bike friendly state in the country by the League of American Bicyclists in May 2011. As a state we have many scenic routes to explore. But you will not find many Mainers biking to work or using their bike as their primary means of transportation. Mainers like to bike for exercise and enjoyment – not transportation. In 2009, Maine had only 3,202 people – or 0.5 percent of all commuters – who biked to work. That percentage is the same as the national average.
Maine has many advantages that would help them to adopt a biking culture. Maine has beautiful scenery, many miles of bike trails already in place and a solid core of people who care about biking. If Mainer’s were to take on biking as a way of life they could impact obesity, decrease their carbon footprint and become healthier. In addition, Mainer’s already care about the environment and the majority of residents like to be fit. 77% of the Maine population exercises on a regular basis.
The disadvantages are that Maine has a high population of obese people who are not active, the weather is not dependable, there is not a large metro area, people have long commutes and the state lacks funding for these types of things.
The benefits of striving to develop a bike culture definitely outweigh the negatives. Adopting a biking culture in Maine would benefit our state now and in the future.
We will never be Copenhagen but we could be a more bike friendly Maine.